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Madonna proves she's the champion

Game. Set. Match. That's all I could think of on Saturday.

I speak not of Venus Williams' and Roger Federer's victories at Wimbledon, of course, but of Madonna blowing everyone else off the stage at Live Earth, the mammoth environmental fund and consciousness-raiser that involved, we were told, "150 artists, nine cities and seven continents."

I'm talking, then, about the reunited Police with John Mayer and Kanye West, Keith Urban doing "Gimme Shelter" with Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Black Eyed Peas, Shakira, Macy Gray, you name it.

The unholy mother of blond ambition and the original pop tart made everyone else -- no matter how formidably talented -- look like the junior varsity. And while she was at it, she reminded the entire world that once upon a time, there were ridiculously over-hyped blond exhibitionists in this world who actually had brains and talent.

The subject here, to be sure, isn't rock and roll. Or pop music. Or, for that matter, music of any sort, though she has, in her history, made magnificent music and been underpraised for it.

I'm talking about show business, pure and simple. And there she is a genius, a word I'd defend against all comers, whether they have swords or plough shares.

Give her a stage to fill, a filled stadium jumping up and down for her and a couple billion possible TV watchers eavesdropping, and no one else will fill that stage better. That's especially true if the TV director in England is in on every well-choreographed twitch and shoots it all masterfully.

She came out at Wembley Stadium dressed in black and guitar and, at first, filled that stage, with a slightly angelic children's choir. Then she put on a fedora, introduced some Romanian gypsy musician "friends," moved out to the runway and had a small orgy of Transylvanian Rhythm.

She finished up by whipping off her black dress to reveal pedal pushers underneath that would have made a dandy Esquire Magazine pictorial in 1947. Her third and final song ended up with her slithering over a giant boom box and then a good, old-fashioned Madonna group grope. (It was strictly PG-13. Performing geniuses don't have wardrobe malfunctions. They don't leave room for political grandstanding. This is a woman who has made provocation a popular art -- a very precise and brilliantly controlled one.)

It wasn't as if I didn't see other people who impressed me at Live Earth -- Dave Matthews, a primally screaming Kelly Clarkson (all those who DIDN'T buy tickets to her tour and forced a cancellation now have reason to be sorry), Alicia Keys doing Marvin Gaye, Shakira's patented hip rolls in Hamburg, the Beastie Boys in London doing things to their keyboards even Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon might have frowned on and, yes, Metallica. ("How does it feel to be alive?" yelled lead singer James Hetfield. The Wembley Stadium crowd roared. "Yeah, me too," he replied.)

Bon Jovi in Giants Stadium might as well have stayed home. So should UB40 doing its skippy-dippy ska in Hamburg, Germany. So should rapper Pharrell Williams in Rio. (Hip-hoppers have a disconcerting propensity for screaming, "Let's get this party started," as if nothing happened before they arrived and then looking angry when no one seems to listen. Perhaps if someone had told Williams that people in Rio speak Portuguese? Just asking.)

There was, of course, a message being imparted, but that masterful interviewer Carson Daly took care of that on NBC's coverage by getting Cameron Diaz to pledge that from now on she's going to turn off the shower when she shaves her legs, no matter how long it might take. (We're talking impressively long legs here.)

I jest. Doubtless, in fact, watchers learned any number of small measures to diminish their carbon footprints from an event whose own carbon footprint was what a herd of elephants the size of Austria might leave.

Sometimes, after all, you have to remind us just what a queen looks like, especially when Madonna is usually off in the highlands somewhere reading Kabbalah and raising kids.

You want to get a party started? Invite her -- FIRST.


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